BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Nebraska missed its chances early to win a season opener for the first time since 2009, falling 9-4 Friday to Cal State Bakersfield.
The Huskers (0-1) jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but they surrendered six straight runs as their offense cooled off and the Roadrunners (1-0) took control.
Junior starter Brandon Pierce never seemed to get comfortable, giving up six hits and five runs in two innings against the same team that gave him issues last year. Bakersfield knocked Pierce around in 5 2⁄3 innings last season, scoring eight runs against him.
Pierce and Nebraska's four relievers made too many mistakes up in the strike zone Friday, Husker coach Darin Erstad said.
“I don't care how hard you throw or how good your stuff is, if it's thigh-high, it's going to get knocked around the ballpark,” Erstad said in a postgame radio interview.
Pitch location had been a point of emphasis by the Nebraska coaching staff through the offseason. Last year, the Huskers ranked 241st nationally (out of 291 teams) in hits allowed per nine innings, averaging 10.29.
Bakersfield finished with 15 Friday. The Roadrunners had a hit in every inning but the seventh.
The production was more than enough for left-handed starter Jeff McKenzie, who held Nebraska to two runs in 8 1⁄3 innings in Lincoln last April. After a rocky takeoff, the senior quickly found his groove at his home ballpark Friday. He struck out six in six innings, retiring the last nine he faced.
The Huskers cut their deficit to 7-4 when sophomore Austin Darby drove in sophomore Pat Kelly with a one-out double in the eighth inning. But Bakersfield added two more runs in the bottom of that frame to put the game away.
The outcome might have been different had Nebraska capitalized on a third-inning scoring opportunity.
Trailing 5-2, the Huskers loaded the bases with one out. But senior Josh Scheffert and Darby both struck out.
The Roadrunners scored again in their half of the third and threatened again in the fourth, putting runners on first and third with one out. Reliever Luke Bublitz escaped the jam by recording back-to-back strikeouts.
But no momentum boost followed for Nebraska. The bats went quiet for the next three innings.
“We have to maintain that type of (offensive) pressure for the entire game,” Erstad said.
Sophomore catcher Tanner Lubach, a Lincoln native out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, hit his first career home run, a solo shot in the fourth.
“That was a nice job of staying back on an off-speed pitch,” Erstad said.
Senior Chad Christensen finished with a team-high three hits.
The Huskers play a doubleheader Saturday at Cal State Fullerton. The first game is set to begin at 4 p.m. CST.
Nebraska (0-1) ................ 200 100 010—4 8 0
CSU Bakersfield (1-0) ................ 231 001 02X—9 15 1
W: McKenzie, 1-0. L: Pierce, 0-1. 2B: NU Kelly (1), Darby (1), CSUB Christensen (1), Gusbeth (1). 3B: CSUB Shryock. HR: NU Lubach (1).